Posts tagged ‘Cost Of Living’

Twin Cities Walmart workers say they will walk off the job Black Friday to protest working conditions

APPLE VALLEY, Minn – On a day that’s considered to be the “Super Bowl” of shopping, some Walmart workers warn they’ll be walking off the job, including employees in Minnesota.

More than 1,000 protests are planned across the country, from Milwaukee to Chicago and in St. Paul, at the Walmart at 1450 University Avenue in St. Paul, Friday at 11 a.m.

Gabe Teneyuque, 30, an Apple Valley Walmart employee, says he will be among the protesters, as part of the group OUR Walmart, a national organization formed by frustrated workers, and says the planned walk-off isn’t about working on Thanksgiving night, but how employees are treated all year long.

He says he took a job in the electronics department last year to help support his parents, but working conditions he encountered were “eye opening.” He says many workers are afraid to speak out about their low wages, short hours, and changing schedules.

“Everyone goes there because the prices are good, but it’s got to come from somewhere and from what I have seen it’s not coming from the top,” said Teneyuque.

Teneyuque says he earns $9.00 an hour part time, and has been unable to secure a full time position with benefits, and many of his co-workers are in the same situation. This Black Friday, he hopes shoppers will encourage Walmart to improve conditions.

“Just by increasing wages and making health care affordable, Walmart can turn this country around, they have that power, to raise up the poverty level,” said Teneyuque. “Something we can live on and be comfortable, not be on food stamps, not having to worry about paying bills and feeding family.”

In a statement, Walmart says its’ pay and benefit plans are as good or better than retail competitors, including those unionized, and shoppers won’t notice any disruptions when doors open at 8 p.m., or at their big electronics event at 10 p.m., and Friday morning kickoff at 5 a.m.

“Black Friday for us is the Superbowl of retail , we have a great plan in place and we don’t feel like there is any other retailer set up to win like Walmart,” said Sarah Spencer, a Walmart spokesperson offering media an early Black Friday preview at the company’s Brooklyn Center store.

“They are nervous and they should be, it’s time,” said Bernie Hesse, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1189, the union supporting the Walmart workers in their protests.

“What I would say to folks is, economic choices are moral choices. When you shop not only do you want to get value, but also think about the worker in the store and the value they have,” said Hesse.

Walmart filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that UFCW’s involvement in the picketing is illegal.

In an email to KARE 11, Walmart said, “We recognize that not everyone is going to find what they are looking for in their job – that’s true of any workplace. The reality is that there are only a handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country that are participating in these UFCW made for TV events. Most of the numbers of people the UFCW claims at their events aren’t even Walmart workers. They are union representatives and other union members. The overwhelming majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers.”

Teneyuque isn’t sure what will happen when he walks off the job Friday, but says it’s worth the risk.

“The way I see it if a company like Walmart wants you gone, they will find a way, and that is what worries me, but I see the end gain, I see the future and what it can be,” he said.


(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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The Real Retirement Crisis » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names


“The lifespan of any civilization can be measured by the respect and care that is given to its elderly citizens, and those societies which treat their elderly with contempt have the seeds of their own destruction within them.”

—Arnold J. Toynbee

The astounding, and potentially tragic, aspect of Washington’s three-plus-decade Social Security debate is that it carries on with little regard to the challenges facing the program’s participants. Politicians on the right and center-right feel free to decry resistance to even “modest cuts” in Social Security benefits while ignoring the vulnerability of seniors who are living the effects of reductions already mandated in the program’s last major overhaul, in 1983.

But the situation for seniors – and future retirees – is becoming alarming. A new, supplemental poverty measure introduced by the Census Bureau last November nearly doubled the official estimate of Americans over 65 living in poverty, to 15.9%, mainly due to medical costs not counted in the official numbers. More than 34% were either poor or near-poor—defined as having family income less than twice the poverty line. Half of all retirement-age persons who were no longer working—that is, who were receiving Social Security—had total yearly income of less than $16,140—only a fraction more than the federal minimum wage.

Even small reductions in benefits, or slower growth over a period of years, could tip many of these people into poverty. Countless others, who once believed their personal savings, 401(k)s, employer-sponsored pensions, or the equity in their homes made their retirements secure, are finding out that this isn’t the case either. Meanwhile, the White House, Republicans, and centrist Democrats are reportedly negotiating a Grand Bargain built on the deficit-cutting Bowles-Simpson proposals, which would include deep reductions to Social Security. And state and local governments are scrounging for ways to cut back the rest of the safety net for seniors—targeting Medicaid funds for nursing homes and home health care, housing subsidies, and other benefits.

A true retirement crisis is looming in the U.S., but politicians, obsessed with Social Security projections decades into the future, are disinclined to address it. Financially vulnerable older workers will be affected almost as soon as they retire; workers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s today will be hit much harder.

The Social Security “deficit”—the amount by which annual old-age and Disability Insurance benefits are expected to exceed revenues—was projected in 2011 to total about $6.5 trillion over the next 75 years. But for all the political attention focused on it, the economic impact of that shortfall will be quite moderate, equaling just .7% of GDP. Even the Baby Boom retirement wave wouldn’t make a very big dent in the economy, according to the Social Security trustees, whose 2011 Annual Report estimated that the annual cost of benefits will rise gradually to 6.2% of GDP by 2035, decline to about 6% by 2050, then stabilize at about that level.

By contrast, the U.S. faces a “retirement income deficit” of $6.6 trillion—larger than Social Security’s projected 75-year shortfall and five times the size of the current-year federal deficit. The Retirement Income Deficit is a new measure unveiled in fall 2010 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. It lumps together all the resources that Americans in their peak earning years will have to retire on: Social Security and pension benefits, retirement savings, home equity, and other assets. It calculates the income people will need in retirement, based on tax scenarios as well as the income replacement targets that Americans at different income levels will likely need to meet.

Social Security and Medicare are perhaps the only ingredients in the Retirement Income Deficit calculation that the elderly can still rely upon. Nearly two-thirds depend on Social Security for more than half their income, and roughly one in five for all of it. Without Social Security, nearly half of Americans over 65 would be living in poverty. If anything, dependence on Social Security has increasing since the latest economic slump, thanks to the collapsed housing market, the recession, decades of stagnating wages, and the disintegration of other elements of the social safety net, among other factors.

Not that it’s a lot to lean on. Social Security only replaces 37% of the average worker’s pre-retirement income at 65. More than 95% of recipients get less than $2,000 a month from the program. Women average less than $12,000 a year in benefits, compared to $14,000 for retirees overall, thanks to the gender pay gap—partially explaining why 75% of old people living in poverty in the U.S. are women. While this seems to merit little discussion in deficit-obsessed Washington or on Wall Street, it draws an alarming picture for anyone familiar with what’s happening in the rest of the country, where a Gallup poll found 90% of people aged 44 to 75 agreeing that the country faces a retirement crisis.

Even before the economic slump, however, there were reasons to worry about the erosion of Social Security.

The Real Retirement Crisis » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

The New Economy Poverty rate: Are Americans really poorer than in 1960?

Poverty rate rose to 14.3 percent in 2009, but government figures don’t capture very well the long-term rise in living standards.

By Laurent Belsie, Business editor / September 19, 2010

A woman stocks up on bread at Sacred Heart Community Center in San Jose, Calif., Sept. 16. The ranks of the working-age poor climbed to the highest level since 1959 as the recession threw millions of people out of work last year. The poverty rate jumped to 14.3 percent.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP


0 and 0

Poverty shot up last year in the United States with one in seven Americans falling below the poverty line. And it’s likely to get worse, because unemployment remains stubbornly high.

Laurent Belsie

Business Editor

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But the poverty rate, as calculated by the US Census Bureau, only tells part of the story.

It makes it easy to figure out that a shocking number of Americans – nearly 44 million – couldn’t afford a minimal basket of goods. That’s the highest total since 1959.

What these numbers don’t capture very well is the long-term improvement in living standards. And that has big political implications.

“There are so many people out there who have used for political arguments [the idea] that we’ve lost the war on poverty,” says James Sullivan, a professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “Maybe we haven’t won the war on poverty, but in terms of long-term changes in deprivation, there is considerable evidence that we have made long-term progress there. And that evidence is just missed in the official numbers.”

A major problem is that by strictly looking at income, as the Census Bureau does, the poverty measure doesn’t capture the changes in consumption patterns.

Consider, for example, all the things that people, even poor people, have come to take for granted that didn’t even exist in 1959: countertop microwave ovens, touch-tone phones, cellphones, personal computers, the Internet, e-mail, GPS systems, air-cushioned running shoes, CDs, DVDs, videogames, and modern ATMs. [Editor’s note: This sentence was changed to reflect the fact that bulkier, under-the-counter microwave ovens did exist in 1959.]

Some of these items may not necessarily qualify as progress. But by focusing on consumption patterns, Dr. Sullivan says, researchers can at least get a more realistic handle on what’s happening with people’s living standards. And there are signs of progress since 1959 (or 1960, when the census came out), he adds.

For examples, back in 1960:

  • A 21-inch black-and-white Philco tabletop TV cost about $1,800 in today’s dollars and could receive only a handful of channels;
  • A refrigerator with freezer cost the equivalent of $1,510 in today’s dollars;
  • A two-speed automatic washing machine, primitive by today’s standards, cost the equivalent of $1,100;
  • Only 12 percent of homes had air-conditioning (versus 84 percent last year);
  • Only 8 percent of the population had completed four years of college (versus 27 percent today).

Not everything was more expensive back then. People didn’t have to pay for television or ring tones. By 1960’s standards, it would cost 30 cents to mail a letter today, not 44 cents.

Even there, however, strict comparisons don’t offer a complete picture, Dr. Sullivan says. Many people have replaced hand-written letters with e-mails or text messages because they’re cheaper and faster.

Modern Americans may pay for cable television, but they have 30 to 60 times the channels that were available in 1960. They have a cellphone bill but can call from anywhere without extra charges for long-distance calls.

The challenge now is that those 50 years of progress have come crashing to a halt, analysts say.

“The great recession is a significant setback,” Sullivan says. “At least as I see it right now, there’s no evidence of us coming out [of it] in the short term. There’s a lot that needs to get back on track before we continue to make strides in fighting poverty.”

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Once Again, Obama’s USDA Less Transparent than Bush’s

The ballooning national debt and Tea Party pressure has members of Congress running in the halls with their budget-cutting scissors in hand. The Senate Agriculture Committee is no exception. This Thursday morning, the senators convened a hearing billed as focusing on:

… measuring the performance of every agriculture program, fighting fraud, eliminating duplication and waste, and cutting red tape for farmers.

It’s convenient for the committee that the Environmental Working Group released on the same day the latest update of its farm subsidy database, which has been searched 250 million times since it debuted in 2004.

We hope they’ll notice that despite lawmakers’ boasts of enacting major reforms in the 2008 farm bill, the new data clearly show that wealthy absentee land owners and mega farms awash in record income are once again the main beneficiaries of federal farm programs – while struggling family farmers go begging.

And once again, the database shows that many farm subsidy recipients get those fat government checks at addresses in New York City, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles – not exactly farm country, and a far cry from the programs’ original intent.

Compounding the bad news, under President Obama the US Department of Agriculture has again sharply limited the data that EWG receives under the Freedom of Information Act in order to assemble the database and identify the real winners of farm subsidy largesse. It’s those data that has allowed EWG to follow the money and exposed the gross inequities in federal spending that enable the big agricultural operations to come away with the most generous haul of taxpayer dollars.

In 2007, the USDA under former President Bush released previously unavailable records that allowed EWG’s database to uncover nearly 500,000 farm subsidy recipients whose identities had previously been shielded by byzantine mazes of co-ops and corporate shell games. The database revealed, for example, that Florida real estate developer Maurice Wilder, reportedly worth $500 million, was pulling in almost $1 million a year in farm subsidies for corn farms he owns in several states.

In 2010 and now 2011, however, the USDA has refused to release the data that provided this revelatory accounting of just who receives the billions paid out under the maze of federal farm programs.

In preparing for Thursday’s hearing, the Senate Agriculture Committee said that it would be focusing on the accountability and effectiveness of farm programs:

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General (USDA OIG) issued a report detailing its fraud prevention efforts in programs under its jurisdiction, including food assistance programs. USDA OIG’s report shows that in the last six months it has conducted successful investigations and audits that led to 516 arrests, 249 convictions, $47.8 million in recoveries and restitutions, 114 program improvement recommendations, and $11.1 million in financial recommendations across all initiatives under USDA purview, including 80 convictions and $7.9 million in monetary results in food assistance programs.

The Agriculture Committee’s hearing on accountability will examine all areas in the committee’s jurisdiction, including food assistance programs.

Targeting fraud and abuse in any government program is smart policy, and good politics. Federal money is increasingly scarce, and it should go to those that need it – such as poor women and children who depend on federal food and nutrition programs to get enough to eat. But the farm bill’s awkwardly assembled family of sibling programs – including nutrition assistance, farm subsidies and agricultural support – makes for intense rivalries, especially in tough economic times. The subsidy lobby that jealously guards the lavish payments to commodity crop growers finds it easy to stand by quietly while nutrition programs suffer sharp cuts while working feverishly to keep the spotlight off of the largesse of farm subsidy payments.

The outcome of these battles is easy to predict. The Senate Ag Committee members are unlikely to benefit personally or politically from federal nutrition programs for the poor. But as the EWG Farm Subsidy Database made clear, the committee’s members largely represent states with robust farm subsidy hauls, commodity crop payments to the states represented by the Senate Agriculture committee totaled $3.38 billion 2010. House Agriculture Committee Member Districts pulled in $1.99 billion in commodity crop subsidies in 2010.

Speaking of the House side, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) is also beating the accountability drum.

We will examine how we are spending money, where the money is going, and whether the goals of each program are being met. We will look for duplication within issue areas to determine program overlap. We will scrutinize waste, fraud and abuse, and look for ways to build on the success USDA has already achieved.

We have an obligation to taxpayers to ensure our resources are being spent wisely.

But like beauty, what constitutes wise spending is in the eye of the beholder, and the makeup of the House Agriculture Committee’s membership, with its base firmly in states that are home to commodity crop growers, leaves little doubt where its priorities lie.

If the committee takes its cue from the House GOP leadership’s budget bill, which took aim at a wide variety of nutrition assistance efforts, programs like Know Your Farmer Know Your Food will be in peril.

The bill forces USDA to report to Congress every time officials travel to promote the department’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, which supports locally grown food, and discourages the department from giving research grants to support local food systems. Large agribusiness has been critical of the department’s focus on these smaller food producers.

And for those concerned with soil erosion, water quality and the effectiveness of conservation programs authorized through the farm bill, there is a severe lack of transparency there, too.

All sides trumpet their insistence on accountability and “wise” spending, but somehow those priorities never seems to include transparency or equity. It’s long past time for America’s food and farm programs benefit all citizens, not just a handful of wealthy agribusiness churning out the raw material for an unhealthy food system. If Congress can’t manage to take a hard-nosed look at the skewed spending priorities of these programs, as well as the administration’s reluctance to identify the biggest winners of the government’s largesse, then taxpayers and eaters need to demand it.

Twitter Updates

  • At #findingnorth screening @sundancefest looking forward to audience reaction to the critical topic of hunger in America 2 days ago
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